Sunday, November 16, 2003

Revamping Indian polity
Ram Varma

Building a Vibrant India, Democracy, Development and Ethics
by M.M. Luther; Tata McGraw-Hill, New Delhi. Rs 475. Pages 600.

Building a Vibrant IndiaIndia had been launched as a democratic republic after Independence in the hope that the representative government would promote, in John Stuart Millís words: "a better and higher form of national character". However, after half a century of parliamentary democracy, the outlook is dismal and the performance of the polity disappointing, if not dysfunctional.

Luther observes in the Prologue that "the Indian system of governance has become unwieldy, unresponsive and inefficient", and "corruption permeates entire society". The polity is dogged by "competitive populism" on part of unprincipled politicians, society bedeviled by "a vulgar display of consumption by the elite". Much has happened in this half a century. The country has woken up from centuries of slumber and stupor. The people are astir; the nation is on the move. However, is it moving in the right direction?

The point is to create a vibrant India. My World Book dictionary defines vibrant as "characterised by or exhibiting vibration, resounding, resonant, moving or quivering rapidly; throbbing, as with vitality or enthusiasm; moving or acting with rapidity or energy". The book under review incorporates the views of many eminent people of the country on how to inject the requisite vibrancy.

A former chief justice of Calcutta High Court, D.S. Tewatia, bemoans that the vision of a great democratic nation stands virtually shattered. According to him, the political gangrene afflicting the polity has passed the stage of medication and only drastic surgery can restore democratic governance. He presents a well-thought-out alternative electoral model. His intentions are laudable, but his model is much too mechanical. Besides, he would like that the birth of a third child should be made a cognizable offence punishable with imprisonment or fine.

A former Secretary in the Ministries of Defence and Home Affairs, N.N. Vohra, who had boldly exposed the nexus between politicians and the Mafiosi, says in his article that the British had left behind an impoverished nation ó a backward and feudal agrarian economy, a weak industrial base, illiteracy, unemployment and abysmally low earning levels. Rebuilding India was a formidable task.

The rot started with Indira Gandhiís resolve not to yield power at any cost and enforce the Emergency in 1975. The post-Emergency era has been marked by continuing political instability, progressive decline in political and ethical standards, scams and scandals that have shook the nation. He sees an "enlarging envelope of despair and cynicism among the people" and gives some forthright suggestions for dispelling it.

Tejendra Khanna, a former Lieutenant Governor of Delhi, suggests radical measures to tone up the bureaucracy, like insulating the civil services from arbitrariness in the matter of postings and transfers and weeding out the "deadwood" from the administrative services. Itís easier said than done, for the question is who would weed them out? Will the courts allow it? Will the politicians eschew the right to transfer officials? After all, therein lies power and pelf.

Educationist and thinker Amrik Singh has some harsh things to say about our educational system. He opines that the decision taken in 1973 to treat both college and university teachers at par in the matter of wages has had disastrous consequences. Wisdom demanded that a careful distinction be drawn between the two. He is saddened by the politicisation and trivialisation of professional bodies like the University Grants Commission. He calls for decentralisation of educational administration, and a bar on transfer of teachers.

Apart from containing insightful articles on politics, governance, and education, the book is a potpourri of ideas of leading professionals in law, medicine, foreign relations, arts and religion, industry, management consultancy and media. It underscores the malaise that has affected virtually all spheres of our national life. The root of the word "vibrant" is "shaking". The question is who will shake our system? Our tragedy is that we abound in ideas, but there is an absence of action.